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Firearm appellate case could affect all Utah police officers

SALT LAKE CITY – A case before the Utah Supreme Court could challenge how armed, off-duty police officers could respond to life-threatening situations.

Bullets whizzed over the head of a former Unified Police detective three years ago during a hunting trip.

“He went to assess the threat, responding how he had been trained by carrying—behind his back—his firearm,” said Paul Cassell, the attorney for Lance Bess.

“[Bess] ended up being criminally charged for that.”

Cassell, who is also a law professor at the University of Utah, says Lance Bess never pointed his gun at the errant hunters.

But Bess did unholster it, and he did curse them out. Bess spent two days in jail.

Cassell says the conviction, if it stands, will limit abilities of off-duty, armed officers to respond in possibly deadly situations.

Cassell will argue for a new trial before Utah’s Supreme Court.

“We need to remember how important these off-duty officers are when they respond to threats,” Cassell said. “I think we should give them the benefit of the doubt.”

Bess quit the force and now has a civilian job with UPD.

The state Attorney General’s Office won’t comment while it prosecutes the appeal.